The Rev. Darryl Gray said he woke up at 6 a.m. Saturday to make the drive from St. Louis to Hutchinson from where he’d been sleeping the past five days on the sidewalk.

Gray, a civil rights activist, had been sleeping outside the office of U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) during the Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.

Saturday night, as President Donald Trump rallied his supporters in Topeka, Gray gave a passionate plea to fire up his base at the NAACP Freedom Fund banquet on the campus of Hutchinson Community College.

“As the Midwest goes so does the rest of the country,” Gray told the crowd of nearly 200 who packed the room at the Stringer Fine Arts Center. “We’ve got to act now.”

As Trump pushed votes for Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, Grey criticized the Kansas secretary of state’s requirement of voter identification.

“I don’t have to tell y’all about voter suppression in Kansas, because you have one of the leading voter suppressors in the United States here,” Gray said. “Those who would suppress our vote, they have to have a pilot project somewhere. Y’all were the pilot project. Now we’re seeing these same kinds of laws in Missouri and across the country.”

Young voters make a difference

Gray called on young voters to get involved as they did in 2008 and 2012, when 66 percent of those under the age of 30 voted for President Barack Obama.

“Your grandchildren decided 'I don’t want to vote like my grandparents. I don’t want to vote for the past. I want to vote for the future.' Black voters showed up. You knew we were coming. Hispanic voters? Knew they were coming. You didn’t see these folks coming,” Gray said.

Gray knows about mobilizing. He stood with protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. He was among 100 people arrested last year during a protest blocking a street outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis following the acquittal of a police officer for shooting a black youth. The demonstrations pushed the city of St. Louis to form an independent police review board. He has worked with a police ethics organization in St. Louis for decades and described himself as "pro-police."

But Saturday, voting was the issue bringing Gray to Hutchinson. “Defeat hate, vote,” was the theme of Saturday night’s banquet, attended by civic leaders and state legislators.

“We can defeat hate, but only if we vote,” Kenya Cox, president of the Kansas state conference of the NAACP, told the crowd Saturday.

Coming undone

Gray, a former Kansas State Senator, said Trump’s presidency threatens to undo much of the civil rights strides of the past 50 years through unraveling access to health care and restrictive voter registration laws.

“We can’t keep voting in the past," Gray said. “The Civil Rights Act has been gutted. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted. Roe vs. Wade is being threatened. These things are real, and we’ve got to be alarmed.

Gray spent the past week outside of Blunt’s office in St. Louis, he had been fighting Kavanaugh’s nomination, since before Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Kavanagh denied the allegations of sexual assault and the Senate confirmed his lifetime appointment to the high court earlier Saturday.

“He is on the Supreme Court, and we have reasons to be concerned,” Gray said. “Because of who he is and because of what the NAACP, the Urban League, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said about him prior to Dr. Ford standing up – and the other women. I believe them. I have five daughters. But I don’t think we educated enough. We didn’t mobilize enough around it and explain why this nominee wasn’t suitable for us.”

Getting out the vote

Gray said the next two years would be crucial to the future of civil rights. He also politics aren’t as divisive as they seem. All people, he said, care about issues such as quality education, access to health care and equal rights.

“If we’re to defeat hate, we have to stand up,” Gray said. “You know there are problems as it relates to diversity and inclusion and racial equity. We have come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.

“This is still the greatest country in the world,” Gray he said. “But we’ve got issues.”